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Wednesday, 27 March 1968

Mr LUCHETTI (Macquarie) - Mr Deputy Speaker,the Bill that we are now discussing is in terms similar to those of one which was before the House last year and which remained on the business paper until the Parliament was prorogued. This is a measure of great interest to the people residing in the valleys of certain coastal rivers of New South Wales and to the community generally, for the prosperity of the people of the Northern Rivers district of New South Wales is vital to the prosperity and wellbeing of the people of Australia. This is important legislation because it exhibits the achievement of unity of action by the partners in government in Australia in the local, State and national spheres. Indeed, the example given to us here might well be followed in other fields of governmental activity. Frequently the Parliament and the people are faced with problems that involve the local, State and national arms of government. We have before us now a glorious example of the way in which this National Parliament, with the Parliament of New South Wales and the local councils, which directly express the views of the local citizens, can work together to attain a laudable objective.

The purpose of this Bill is to amend the New South Wales Grant (Flood Mitigation) Act 1964 so as to increase the Federal Government's financial assistance under the terms of that Act from $5.5m to $8m. This assistance is to be paid in the form of nonrepayable grants over the 6-year period ending in June 1969. Subject to the provisions of this legislation, flood mitigation works are undertaken on six coastal rivers in New South Wales. The financial assistance provided by the Commonwealth will match dollar for dollar the State Government's contribution. The State Government contributes S3 for every $1 spent by the local authority on works on the Hunter River and S2 for every SI spent by the respective county councils on the Tweed, Richmond, Clarence, Macleay and Shoalhaven rivers. The Treasurer (Mr McMahon) has stated that flood mitigation is costing more than had originally been estimated when this scheme began in 1964. The increase in cost is acknowledged by the Opposition, as it is acknowledged by the whole community, which witnesses in all directions the effects of the cost spiral.

The work being undertaken will not prevent floods from occurring but is designed to mitigate the intensity of and the damage wrought by recurring floods. The Opposition does not oppose this measure, but it would be much happier if a national conservation authority could be established by the Commonwealth for the purpose of conserving water and diverting it to the dry and arid parts of Australia. Indeed, it is incongruous that as the Parliament considers this measure parts of southern Australia are experiencing one of the worst droughts ever known. To our dismay, we have learned from the Minister for National Development (Mr Fairbairn) of the dismissal from the Snowy Mountains Hydro-electric Authority of valuable key personnel. The flood mitigation works envisaged under the terms of this measure will be designed to keep flooded rivers within their banks as far as possible and, where water spills over the river plains, to drain the flood waters as speedily as possible into the Pacific Ocean. So the policy is to drain flood waters as rapidly as possible into the Pacific Ocean while vast tracts of Australia remain dry. I hope that in future we will find means of diverting these waters over the ranges to areas where they can be of value. This is the Australian paradox; it is a paradox of flood and drought, of great bounty and of shortages, of water inundating vast areas of rich and valuable countryside while elsewhere drought and ruin exist.

A major contributing factor to the flooding of river plains is undoubtedly the erosion of top soils which are carried by streams into river beds that are unable to cope with a huge volume of water. In discussing this legislation J pay a tribute to the soil conservation service of New South Wales. I acknowledge the outstanding contribution it has made in this field. Its officers have rendered valuable work and they need encouragement. A 2-year survey of the eastern and central divisions of New South Wales, completed in 1943. classified 1.865 square miles of land as beyond reclamation. This is a shocking indictment of our occupancy of this country. It confirms that there is a link between flood mitigation and conservation - the conservation of water, soils and forests.

In discussing flood mitigation it is necessary, too, to acknowledge the work of those who were responsible for bringing this question so strongly to the attention of the Commonwealth Government and of the New South Wales Government. I have in my possession a document entitled 'The Case for Flood Mitigation on the Coastal Rivers of NSW. It relates to the Tweed, Richmond, Clarence, Macleay and Shoalhaven Rivers. lt was prepared in 1963 by the local councils in the area and was submitted to the State Government. The document formed the basis of a debate on the urgency of doing something to overcome the tragedy of lands that were being submerged as often as three times in one year. According to the document, 5,621,852 acres were affected. That area had an annual production averaging £9,169,000 and it was claimed thai the proposals for flood mitigation would involve an expenditure of £5,397,000, which would increase the average annual production to £18.242,250. It was an extremely good case, presented by people deeply interested in their district and in the development of the coastal river areas of New South Wales. They represented the Macleay River County Council, Clarence River County Council, Richmond River County Council. Tweed Shire Council and Shoalhaven Shire Council and they acknowledged the work of the Hunter River County Council, which also had worked effectively in seeking flood mitigation assistance. I do not ask that this document be incorporated in Hansard, because it is too voluminous, but I commend it to honourable members.

In my possession I also have a copy of the Grafton 'Daily Examiner' of 15th May 1963. On the front page are pictures taken the previous day of the flooded Clarence River plain. The paper reports the visit of an all-party parliamentary group from Canberra which flew over the area and then touched down at Grafton to discuss the problems of flood mitigation with a dynamic group of people who had a message to tell the delegation. I was one of the party which called on that area and it was my privilege to learn at first hand of the desolation and losses caused by floods of such magnitude. There was shocking evidence of the damage caused by flooding of rich and valuable country. Our visit to the area was due to the untiring work of Mr F. W. McGuren, who was at that time the member for Cowper. He worked unceasingly, and I pay a tribute to him for his incessant and untiring work and for his great faith that something would be done about flood mitigation. Following that visit in 1963. and as a result of the document prepared by the county councils, the legislation which we now seek to amend was introduced.

Flood mitigation work is proving successful in draining river flats of floodwaters quickly and enabling people to return to their homes and farms. During the recent parliamentary recess I visited the Clarence River and Macleay River areas. Both county councils are working hard to overcome the effects of floods. I congratulate the county officers, engineers and staff for what they are doing. The approach in each area is somewhat different. The Clarence County Council seems preoccupied with digging channels and undertaking drainage work to get the floodwaters out to sea as quickly as possible so that the water will not become stagnant and waterlog vast areas; in the Macleay River area greater emphasis is being paid to building up the river banks, constructing levees, strengthening the walls of river banks and clearing debris to enable the river to carry a greater volume of water. As a result of the work that has been done the Macleay River is carrying a much greater volume of water today. The river bed itself is deeper. I visited the area shortly after a flood and I was pleased to note that dairymen and others were returning with their stock to their properties. The countryside had not suffered grievously.

According to Mr Davis Hughes, the New South Wales Minister for Public Works, flood mitigation work on the Clarence River is 73% completed; on the Macleay River, 50% completed; on the Richmond River, 60% completed; on the Tweed River, 58% completed; on the Shoalhaven River, 62% completed; and on the Hunter River 37% completed. This indicates that the money voted by this Parliament for flood mitigation works has been well spent. Some areas concentrate on drainage works and constructing canals whereas other areas concentrate on river bank protection work and levee stabilisation work.

In discussing this work 1 want to refer to a problem that is constantly with us. When rivers are cleaned out the flow of water is accelerated. Many of the rich alluvial flats on the upper reaches of a river are subjected to surges and pressures which destroy the river system and the alluvial river flats. The beautiful rich soil is taken away in the floods that repeatedly come down the rivers. So the class of work to which I refer will need to be continued. As far as 1 am concerned there is no ending to this work.

Whilst this Parliament, the Parliament of New South Wales and the county Councils have carried out the work over a period of years, I can envisage a continuing service required to attend to the need for the preservation of these rich alluvial river flats. This is something that must go on all the time. I can only hope that we will go from flood mitigation to flood prevention and conservation as well as to changing the courses of streams in order to use water in a similar way to that in which it is being used in the vast Snowy Mountains project. I hope that the people who have worked on the Snowy scheme will be given a charter to go forward to work on the northern rivers of New South Wales. Those people can make a contribution assuring not only a supply of water in drought time, in good and bad seasons, but also regulation of flow in times of flood, conservation of water and its use in the dry periods. The waters of these rivers can also be diverted over the mountains to increase the already great productivity of this nation.

Concern has been expressed by farmers and settlers on the upper flats of the Macleay River, as I have said, and the work must be given very high priority. The work should not be delayed. I wish to go on record in expressing my personal appreciation to those who have made their contribution to the practical methods of dealing with flood situations on the rivers of the eastern coast of New South Wales. It may be thought by some that those people do not make a contribution. It is known that the county councils do make their contribution. But the money that is required must come in the first instance out of the pockets of the people who live in these county areas. They find the money. They make it available by payment of rates to their local councils which, in turn, pass it over to the county councils which engage in this valuable work. This work is an example of valuable self help.

As I commented at the outset, it is good to know that this work is receiving support from the State and from the nation. May this form of teamwork in government - local, State and national - be continued so that the people will be able to advance themselves knowing that they have, in addition to their own efforts, the support of the councils, the State and the nation. Now that the present work of the county councils is well advanced, we need to press forward with a comprehensive water programme. The magnitude of the work that will be required in the future is much beyond the purse of the people in that area. They cannot be expected to finance the grand and major schemes that will be required in the future.

It is true that floods will continue. The north coast of New South Wales over the years has been blessed with bounteous rains. It is a rich and wonderful area. What has been accomplished there is truly to the credit of all concerned. Water is a basic requirement in the development of the resources of this nation. Waters being discharged into the Pacific Ocean are vitally necessary for the effective occupation of this land. I believe that no better purpose exists for the investigation, survey and design sections of the Snowy Mountains Hydro-electric Authority than to involvement and assistance with the major tasks that lie ahead. This should form a part of the objectives of a national conservation authority. We have the evidence that local, State and Commonwealth bodies can work together. We hear of dismissals taking place at the Snowy Mountains project. I can only hope that the Commonwealth Government, realising what is before it at the present time, will use these valuable men for the great work that lies ahead in the conservation of water, and make that water available to those who need it most, sparing the people of the coastal strip of New South Wales from the disasters of floodings and the desolation and loss that follow them.

Debate (on motion by Mr Robinson) adjourned.

Sitting suspended from 5.56 to 8 p.m.

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